(Editor's note: For five years, Dave
Childers has provided a position-by-position analysis beginning the day after
National Signing Day. In an eight-part series, he breaks the class down for RebelSports.net.
Previously, he has provided an analysis of quarterbacks, running
backs, wide receivers, and offensive line. Today, a look is offered at the
defensive line. In the coming days, the series will look at
and defensive backs.)
The skinny ? Ole Miss' defensive line
was thought to be the strength of the team headed into the 2008 season, and it
didn't disappoint, finishing fourth in run defense and averaging almost nine
tackles for a loss per game to tie with Florida State for first in that category
nationally. The Rebels did have to weather some early season injuries -
namely senior Peria Jerry and junior Greg Hardy - and the full force of the
defensive line didn't hit until around the end of September. Even after
that, Hardy was only available for spot duty, but the line continued to grow and
emerge as a force in the SEC.
The big loss that head coach Houston Nutt must
deal with is Jerry, who became a key leader on the team about a third of
the way through the season. The team has the talent and in-bound prospects
to replace him; however, it could be his emotional leadership that will be what is missed
most. Another loss that may go largely unnoticed by fans, but not by the
team or coaches, is fifth year senior Chris Bowers. Bowers saw a lot of
snaps at defensive end and also was a presence on special teams. The Rebels also
lost former hoops star Jeremy Parnell, who saw limited action in his first year
of football, and Antonio Turner, a scout team member.
The Rebels return a mountain of talent.?
It begins with Hardy, who opted to return for his senior season, but must
overcome a second surgery on his foot this spring, and extends to proven talent
like Marcus Tillman, Kentrell Lockett, Lawon Scott, and Ted Laurent.? It
gets even deeper with junior college transfer Emmanuel Stephens, who will be a
senior, and continues with Jerrell Powe and Justin Smith, who contributed as a
true freshman last fall.? All are proven contributors along the line.?
Overall assessment ...? The
Rebels probably could have gone into the season without a signee and would have
been all right.? However, what was most needed from the 2009 signing class
was to bring in talent that can be groomed to replace the likes of seniors Hardy
and Tillman and Lockett, a junior.? The staff did that and the key at
defensive end is Chicago-native Craig Drummond, who is enrolled and set to go
through spring practice after being denied early enrollment at Illinois. It's a
key spring for Drummond, who missed his senior season due to injury.?
Another key recruit was Tallahassee prospect Corey Gaines, a 6-foot-1, 280 pound
defensive tackle out of the mold of Laurent and Scott.?
In addition to those two key "gets" for Ole
Miss, they signed West Helena, Ark. native Eric Smiley, who has some academic
issues and could be off to prep school or junior college.? Mike Thomas, a
Mobile product could be in for a grayshirt (delayed enrollment), but it's likely
that Atlanta-area prospect Cameron Whigham, a 6-foot-3, 230 pound prospect who
could be used at end or bulked up to play tackle, will spend a year on the team
developing while redshirting this fall.? Alex Williams, a 6-foot-4, 215
pound defensive end could see the same fate.
One area where the line will have to adjust is to a new coach. Former Auburn assistant Terry Price takes over for Tracy Rocker. Price brings a wealth of experience coaching the position and may bring some extra punch to the staff as a strong recruiter.
The ones that got away ... The Rebels really liked 6-foot-3, 230
pound defensive end Victor Gray, but Gray had already been displaced once
recently in his home life and
opted to stay locally with UCF over another move. The staff also pursued
Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd, Mississippi State signees, but when the duo spurned
the Rebels early in the process, attention quickly turned to some equally
capable prospects. Ole Miss also had former four-star defensive linemen Bo Tillman in town and ready to enroll before a snag with his academic status.
Tillman could enroll in the fall if he gets his academics in order.
Craig Drummond, DE, 6-5, 260, Chicago, Ill. (Morgan Park)--Already
enrolled at Ole Miss and will participate in spring drills ... Named to theU.S.
ArmyAll-American team ... APrepStarandSuperPrepAll-America
selection ... Rated the No. 2 player in Illinois and the No. 13 player in the
Ranked the No. 4 DE and the No. 55 player in the nation byTom
Lemming... Rated the No. 3 player in
Illinois, the No. 7 DE in the nation and the No. 119 player in the country byRivals.com...
Listed as the No. 7 DE and No. 99 player in the nation byESPN...
Rated as the No. 13 DE and No. 97 player in the nation byScout.com...
Totaled 67 tackles and 18 QB sacks as a junior ... Named first team All-City and
All-State as a junior byThe Chicago
Tribune... Did not play his senior
season due to injury ... Coached in high school by Lexie Spurlock.
Corey Gaines, DT, 6-1, 280, Tallahassee,
to theU.S. ArmyAll-American
team ... A member of theRivals.com250
list ... Rated the No. 19 DT in the nation and No. 38 player in Florida byRivals.com...
selection ... Rated the No. 62 DT in the nation byESPN...
A two-time member of theTallahassee
Democrat'sAll-Big Bend team ...
Ranked 111th on theMobile Press
Register'sSuper Southeast ... Earned
first team 3A All-State honors fromFlorida
Sports Writers Associationas a
senior ... Considered the No. 17 center in the nation byScout.com...
Named to the Florida Super 75 by theFlorida
Times Union... Coached in high
school by Shelton Crews.
DL, 6-5, 280, West Helena, Ark. (Central)?
selection ... Rated the No. 9 player in Arkansas bySuperPrep...
Rated the No. 22 DT in the nation byTom
Listed as the No. 12 player in Arkansas and the No. 84 defensive tackle in the
Recorded 65 tackles and nine QB sacks as a senior ... Posted 73 tackles and 14
QB sacks as a junior ... An All-District selection as a senior ... Coached in
high school by Russell Smith.
DT, 6-4, 245, Mobile, Ala. (St. Paul's Episcopal)--
selection ... Rated the No. 24 player in Alabama bySuperPrep...
Ranked the No. 47 DE in the nation byRivals.com,
No. 76 by Scout.comand No. 88 byESPNPosted
110 tackles, 17 TFLs, and 8.5 QB sacks as a junior ... Helped lead St. Paul's to
the Class 5A state championship as a junior ... Coached in high school by Mike
Cameron Whigham, DE,
6-3, 230, Snellville, Ga. (Shiloh)--
Totaled 85 tackles, 19 TFLs and seven QB sacks as a senior ... Added 79 tackles,
17 TFLs and seven QB sacks as a junior ... Rated the No. 166 DE in the nation byESPN...
A Member ofThe Atlanta
150 list ... Coached in high school by Nick Davis.
Alex Williams, DE, 6-4,
215, Tallahassee, Fla. (Florida A&M High)--
Named first team All-State byFlorida
Sports Writers Associationas a
junior and senior ... ASuperPrepAll-Region
selection and rated No. 77 player in Florida ... Recorded 19 QB sacks both his
junior and senior seasons ... Rated the No. 34 DE in the nation byESPN,
No. 50 byRivals.comand
No. 78 by Scout.com... Averaged 19
points per game in basketball as a junior ... Brother, Boo, played for Houston
Nutt at Arkansas and in the NFL ... Coached in high school by Ira Reynolds.